Crusty, clever British spy Charlie Muffin returns for a disappointing seriocomic adventure--the main storyline of which is an uninspired knockoff of Day of the Jackal. Freemantle's written so often about Charlie, though, that the middle-aged spook strolls through his seventh outing with a rumpled wardrobe full of comfortably familiar problems--most stemming from Charlie's disregard for Her Majesty's purse--that cloak and warm the mechanical plot. That clanky machine revs up with a breathless depiction of top KGB cipher expert Vladimir Novikov crashing through the woods, clogs on his heels, on his way to defect to the British. Novikov's gift: warning of an impending major assassination, target unknown. Charlie's mission: prevent the killing. The killer--as we know but he doesn't--is the curdled cream of the crop of KGB hit men: Vasili Zenin, who, after training for his kill, slips into Geneva to join forces--and sleep--with a sexy Palestinian. Inspired gumshoeing puts Charlie on Zenin's trail in Geneva, where the British spy gets tangled up in the competing interests of Swiss, Israeli, and American agents (and plays witness to Zenin's slaughter of one Yankee spy whose predictable death--hard on the heels of a marital reconciliation--Freemantle milks for shameless sentimentality). Scenes of Zenin preparing for his hit strobe with ones of Charlie closing in; in a near carbon copy of the Forsyth novel, Charlie corners his man crouched over a sniper's rifle in an isolated room--and if the Englishman's timing is a bit off, well, Freemantle sets up events for a redemptive sequel. Premium when tracking Charlie's foibles, especially his perpetual war with Her Majesty's bureaucrats; cut-rate in the only moderately suspenseful and very familiar (touches of Ian Fleming there, too) hard-core spy stuff. Not at all the best Charlie, then, but the spy's fans will likely be grateful for even these modest pickings.